From The Editor...
By Robert Harley
Reviewing the Musical Fidelity A308 preamplifier and power amplifier for
this issue led me to reflect on the concept of value in high-end audio components. Every manufacturer pursues his own particular business strategy and aesthetic, which results in the huge range of products we see in the marketplace.
At one extreme is the manufacturer of ultra-exotic (and ultra-expensive) gear, like the Walker turntable also reviewed in this issue, who must amortize the
product’s design—and the company’s overhead—over very few units. Cost of
parts alone may not be the only significant factor in determining retail price. Often built by the designer himself with an attention to detail rarely seen in
any consumer product, these components push the limits of what’s possible in
At the other extreme are manufacturers, such as Musical Fidelity, who
employ economy-of-scale manufacturing techniques to produce components that may not be state-of-the-art, but deliver a very high level of performance for
a fraction of the price of the cost-no-object components. Similarly, some manufacturers offer expensive metalwork and extraordinary
build quality, which can double or triple cost. Others are content to wrap their
circuits in plain-Jane boxes, which significantly lowers cost. Which leads to two questions: Is economy-of-scale
manufacturing antithetical to high-end values? And, conversely, can an extremely expensive product be
high in value?
Tackling the first question, I believe that mass manufacturing is absolutely
consistent with high-end ideals—just as long as the designer and the company truly care about music and their customers enjoying the experience of music.
Careful, musically sensitive design coupled with the manufacturing and distribution clout that only a big company provides can deliver to the listener the
most performance for the money. In fact, one could make the argument that such companies are more important to the high end because they serve the
greatest number of listeners.
Does it necessarily follow, then, that expensive, handmade products are by
definition low in value? No. For those who can afford such items, the (sometimes)
higher performance, superior craftsmanship, greater pride of ownership, and exclusivity are well worth the price difference.
What matters most in any music-reproduction product—from the mass-produced loudspeaker to the output-transformerless power amplifier made in a
basement—is the designer’s attitude toward his work. If he cares about his customers experiencing the joy of music, and has the skill to embody that care in
his product, then it doesn’t matter how the product is manufactured. Fortunately for us, the high end embraces a vast range of approaches, allowing
us to match our priorities and budgets with what manufacturers have to offer.
I’m pleased to announce that long-time TAS contributor Wayne Garcia has
been appointed Editor of this magazine. Wayne brings a wealth of experience to the job, including an extensive background in high-end retailing, reviewing,
and magazine editing. Wayne served as Executive Editor of TAS in the mid-1990s, and was a founder (along with Jonathan Valin) and Editor-in-Chief of
Fi: The Magazine of Music and Sound. His musical sensibilities, listening and
writing talent, and organizational skills will help us continue to deliver the unique
perspective TAS offers on audio and music.
Due to the sudden death of a close friend, Harry Pearson was unable to
contribute to this issue. HP’s Workshop will return in Issue 140.